The Scots ban smacking

Scotland has become the first country in the UK to make it a criminal offence for parents to smack their children. The bill, introduced by the Scottish Green party MSP John Finnie, and supported by the SNP government, was backed by 84 votes to 29. In England and Northern Ireland, parents are allowed to use “reasonable chastisement”, but a ban on smacking is currently working its way through the Welsh Assembly.

Subversive post for the day!:

How times have changed!  My sister and I were playing on top of a barrage balloon on my grandfather’s farm in the Second World War, when the air-raid siren went off as German bombers approached in the distance.  For safety reasons we had been absolutely forbidden to climb the enticing steps to the top of the balloon, which promptly shot upwards into the sky. I was given six of the best with a cane by my father, who was on leave at the time.  Far from protesting, I remember apologizing.  I knew I had been naughty and that we both could have fallen to our deaths. I suffered absolutely no harm and never did it again.

So, how do modern parents discipline their children these days?  Or do they discipline their children?  One wonders.  Kids need boundaries and mostly do not resent the parents imposing them.  On the contrary, they ought to learn right and wrong from their parents, safe from dangerous – it’s part of what parenting involves,  tedious though it is.


Statistic of the week

The world’s biggest employer is the US Department of Defence, with 3.2 million people on its payroll. The People’s Liberation Army of China has 2.3 million and Walmart 2.1 million. Fourth equal are the British National Health service and McDonald’s, with 1.7 million each.  (The Times,  20 July 2019)

3.2 million people working for the armed forces!  Over 600 overseas bases.  A trillion dollar annual bill.  And to what effect?  I fear the outcome will , in retrospect, be similar to the effect on the Roman empire, and we know how that ended.  Looking ahead, dealing with hordes of people displaced by the effects of climate change will not be so different from the effect of dealing with huge, invading tribes in Roman times.  That is, eventual  collapse under the sheer force of numbers.

What has this to do with Epicureanism?  Peace of mind, or lack of it if you keep up with the news!  The Epicurean way is to tackle the problem at source, like now, not wait for it to get out of hand with armies that can’t win wars or stop migrations.   In short, stop the ridiculous denial of the  warming of the planet and do something about climate change!


Are American policemen adequately trained?

From the National Review:

US police have got a bad rap lately, but is it any wonder? Too often, they seem to get away with murder, literally. In recent years we’ve seen “the sad spectacle of a mistrial after a cop shot an unarmed, running man in the back”; the acquittal of the Minnesota officer who shot Philando Castile dead as Castile “was doing his best to comply with the cop’s panicked, conflicting demands”; and the acquittal of another cop who needlessly killed a drunk man, Daniel Shaver, who failed to follow his instructions.

And then there was Amber Guyger. A white Texas cop, she claimed that she thought she was entering her own flat,  saw what she thought was a burgler and killed him, a totally harmless black man, watching TV.  She wasn’t booked until three days after the killing, and was tried for manslaughter. If the roles had been reversed, does anyone doubt the man would have faced a prompt murder charge?

We ask a lot of cops, and most of them do a great job, but the justice system is too stacked in their favour. Officers must be “subject to the very laws they’re sworn to enforce”.  (David French, National Review, 29 Sept 2018).

  We have to have the rule of law and apply it to everyone. You can train policemen on the beat, but fear rules all – fear of guns and the trigger-happy characters the police have to deal with, or, rather, are afraid they will have to deal with.  Nothing will improve while such a large segment of the population defend the chaotic ownership of handguns and military-style weapons without let, hindrance or common sense background checks.  If a slew of white supremacist shootings , with 31 people dead, won’t move public opinion and get sensible safety rules, then there is no hope.

This is a moral issue.  I have first hand experience. The bullet grazed my forehead.  Don’t talk to me about the “right to bear arms”!

Why a single politician is responsible for Brexit

No British government report has had such a disastrous impact on this country as the one produced by transport minister Richard Beeching in 1963, recommending drastically reducing the rail network.  On the basis of its fatally flawed premise – that “the car was the future and rail the past” – hundreds of stations and thousands of miles of track were axed, isolating many of the most economically challenged parts of the country.

By favouring north-south trunk routes and links between the capital and other big towns and cities, the report unquestionably “contributed to the London-centric nature of the economy”. The Beeching report assumed that buses would fill the gaps in areas hardest hit by the cuts, but that didn’t happen. Instead, those areas suffered a “double whammy” as new road-building schemes went on to favour cities that still had rail connections. Beeching’s rail cuts established a “geographical divide” that has polarised our politics ever since. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that without Beeching, Brexit might never have happened.  (Larry Elliott, The Guardian. 19 Oct)

My comment:  this was a huge lifestyle upheaval for tens of thousands, a political decision that was totally unnecessary, driven by the unremitting desire to cut costs, and taxes, without caring too much about actual people. I remember the event very well – the closing of so many rail lines caused outrage, up-turning the lives of tens of thousands of people nationwide who depended on train travel, and who now had to buy cars and drive along roads not designed for the purpose.  The only upside is that the rail lines were ripped up and the routes were converted into hiking paths, spurring a minor boom in walking gear.

I mention this because governments are regularly doing things with unintended consequences, failing to think things through (or not being capable of thinking things through).  Epicurus must have spotted this in ancient Greece, which is one reason he didn’t like party politics.


On average, U.S. adults put on one pound of weight every year.  Researchers looked at the diet and weight of more than 280,000 adults taking part in three long-term research studies. Over more than 20 years of monitoring, participants were asked every four years about their weight and, among other things, how often, over the preceding year, they had eaten a serving (about one ounce) of nuts.

It turns out that eating a handful of almonds, walnuts, peanuts or any type of nut on a regular basis (say a dozen almonds or maybe 10 walnuts) may help prevent excessive weight gain and even lower the risk of obesity, new research suggests.  Nuts also help us feel full longer, which might offset cravings for junk food.

Researchers also found that making nuts a regular part of one’s diet is associated with a lower risk of obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The people who most consistently ate nuts gained, on average, about half a pound a year, while those who ate nuts only now and then gained, on average, about one pound each year. Those half-pounds add up over time.

If nuts become a regular part of people’s diets, their unhealthy food intake,  including processed meats, refined grains and desserts like chocolates, pastries, pies and doughnuts, also declines.  The good news is that nuts have protein in them, which helps us feel full longer, and fiber, which helps fill us up. And because nuts are high in healthy fat, they take much longer to digest than carbs and protein, and that can also make us feel full longer.   (NPR Health, 6 Oct 2019,  based on an article in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health)

Nuts are, in short, very Epicurean.  Read that however you wish!


Breast-ironing classed as crime

A form of abuse where a young woman’s chest is seared with hot stones, supposedly to delay breast development, is to be prosecuted in Britain with offenders facing prison time. There is anecdotal evidence of dozens of British cases of breast-ironing, which is most commonplace in Africa. Activists say it may have happened to more than 1,000 women and girls in the UK.

The Crown Prosecution Service says it will issue guidance making it “quite clear [that] breast-ironing is child abuse.  We hope this new guidance will give victims, police and prosecutors the confidence they need to bring perpetrators of this cruelty to justice,” said Jaswant Narwal, a chief prosecutor who specialises in so-called “honour” abuse.

My comment:  As poor people flee the climate change and political instability in Africa, they bring with them age-old cultural habits we have never heard of.  This one is particularly weird.  But the government is quite right to ban it.  Migrants are welcome, but they should conform to the norms and laws of their new country and respect the individual rights of young girls.  This is just common sense.

Only in France?


A court has ruled that a French man who suffered a fatal heart attack while having adulterous sex on a business trip was the victim of a workplace accident. The engineer, identified only as Xavier X., died in his hotel in the Loire in 2013. In a long-running legal case, his employer argued that although the man was staying at the hotel as part of a business trip, he was not in the course of his professional duties when he joined a “complete stranger” in her room, and that it was therefore not obliged to compensate his family over his death.

But last week, it emerged that earlier this year, an appeals court in Paris had agreed with the state insurance provider, that the sex was “an act of normal life, like taking a shower or eating a meal”, and that the man had been entitled to protection over the course of the “whole mission”.  (reported in The Week, 21 September 2019).

I have an idea for the US House of Representatives that would give us a rest from the endless angst and horrible news of the past months:  pass a law that compensates American families for the deaths of husbands and fathers while caught in flagrante delicto on official trips in business hotels.  It could be a wake-up call, especially for the more sanctimonious people claiming to be christians, and who, I suspect ( but can’t prove) partake like other types.  Epicureans, of course, wouldn’t dream of such goings- on, but most of them are out of a job, so they don’t stay in business hotels where ladies of dubious virtue hang out. (just joking!)

Genesis of the EU

Forty-three years ago the Second World War ended. Europe was devastated, its major cities in chaos, millions of its citizens dead. The bitterness between ancient foes, particularly France and Germany, was deeper than ever.

If in that bleak landscape someone had forecast the Europe of the Eighties, he would have been described as a fool or a dreamer. Yet it happened – because leaders had the vision to suggest new ways. They recognised that if the peoples of Western Europe, with their deep differences and fears for their survival, had chosen the wrong path to protect these differences, the results would have been ruinous for Europe as a whole.

After 1945, men of vision tried a new way. They sat down with former enemies to hammer out agreed institutions which settled relationships and preserved differences . One thing is certain: they would never have achieved it had they continued to dwell on the past and call up the ghosts of the past. That approach would have led, as it always had done, and as it does in Ireland, to conflict in every generation.  (The Week, 8 Oct)

This piece of statesmanship, imperfect though it is (as are most of the constructs of mankind), can be interpreted as a truly Epicurean move, giving peace of mind and better lives to most Europeans, including the poorest and most historically oppressed.  Unfortunately, the fact of the millions dead and the suffering caused by European divisions, is barely, if at all, understood by a large number of European citizens, for whom Facebook and Twitter are more relevant than learning history at school.  We reap what we sow.  If you don’t like how an institution is run, reform it, don’t try to wreck it.

A poem to relieve the gloom


We came, we saw, we sunbathed

Odysseus, who came from Ithaca, just next door,
Found Kefalonia a bore.
No dragons, no beasties, no Charybdis or Scyllas,
Just a load of young Brits drinking beer in their villas.
From the earliest moment when he was a boy,
He wanted adventures, like leveling Troy.
But although he had traveled quite a lot,
He seemed to ignore this particular spot.

Here people are friendly, the climate sublime,
The countryside scented with sage and with thyme.
The olives are ancient, the beaches are sandy,
The food is so-so, but the markets are handy.
But except for Corelli and his mandolin,
There is little to stimulate adrenaline.
It’s an excellent place to just lie in the sun,
But nothing occurs here, when all’s said and done.

No, history’s passed by this particular isle – –
A backwater now, as it’s been for a while.
Top Romans arrived, found the island quite pleasant,
But generally gave it away as a present.
The Venetians came by and proved a mild menace,
But the wine wasn’t good, so they went back to Venice.
The odd conqueror conquered, but promptly departed;
The British came too, but were rather half-hearted.

No sign of a palace of mythical kings,
No civilizations or mystical springs.
No rivers to hell and no acropoli
To attract foreign visitors happening by.
The hire cars are hired, but most sit in the sun,
For where would they go if they went for a run?

No wonder the Italians and British all choose
The beach and the poolside, banter and booze.

How BA fell from grace

Recently  90% of British Airways’ 4,300 pilots started a long-threatened strike. Almost all of BA’s 1,700 flights had to be cancelled and around 200,000 people had their travel plans disrupted. The first pilots’ strike in BA’s 45-year history has arisen over a dispute about pay: BA had offered its pilots an increase of 11.5% over three years – but their union is holding out for a slice of company profits. Although BA pilots are already paid up to £167,000 a year (plus allowances), they reckon their remuneration is “out of kilter” with other big European airlines such as Air France-KLM and Lufthansa. (Daily Mail)

This dispute is a symptom of a wider malaise afflicting BA.   Under CEO Álex Cruz there have been a string of tech-related disasters: a power cut in 2017 left 75,000 passengers stranded; a data hack in 2018 leaked 380,000 customers’ details; a check-in failure in August resulted in 130 flights being cancelled and 300 others delayed. As a result, BA’s share price is down 40% since January last year – and its reputation is in free fall: according to one report, it is now the world’s 55th favourite airline, out of 65; another put it 27th out of 28 for value, ahead only of Ryanair. It all confirms “what many BA travellers know already”, said Simon Kelner in the I newspaper – that “the service, reliability and public image” of the UK’s flagship airline have all been “steadily degraded”. (Graeme Paton in The Times).

 Ten years ago, when BA was loss-making, pilots allowed the airline to recalibrate their pay scale: partly as a result, most pilots earn way below the much-quoted £167,000pa. Add in the fact that many have training debts of up to £100,000 to pay off, and you see why they now feel entitled to a share of the record pre-tax profit of close to £2.5bn that BA made last year. Moreover, Cruz, the Spanish CEO, gets a handsome £1.3m which somewhat dwarfs their own. But if IAG, which owns not only BA but Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus, gives BA gives its pilots a profit share, pilots from those other airlines will want one too.  But at this rate, if passengers are daily alienated,  there’ll be no profits to argue about.  (The Week,14 September 2019)

My comment:  at one time British Airways was effectively owned by the public, and operated as both a national flagship and an agency of public service, like the railways and the mail service, albeit not particularly profitably.   BA is just another example of the reduction in government involvement in the economy and the use of the proceeds to reduce taxes on the rich.   I believe it is part of the Epicurean ethos that government should operate for the benefit of all the people.   At any rate, this drive to privatise everything in sight has been. disaster, like the trains.  I can personally attest to the fact that BA is breathtakingly badly (privately) managed, has no clue as to how to treat customers, and seems to have a staff morale that cannot sink any lower.  Are there still any apologists for privatisation?

There are other things in life than money and growth

Epicureans believe that there are aspects of a good life other than economic growth, money and productivity, but they are under-valued or barely noticed by politicians in Washington.  The system, once much admired (especially by the author!) has been distorted and rendered decadent in a system of revolving doors, involving corrupt politicians and lobbyists and vastly overpaid, greedy corporate bosses.

 Can I suggest some Epicurean objectives, far distant from the world of raw statistics and sleazy political deals, that would help make the United States to be, once again, a more decent place to live in?

–            A safety net, where poor people can be protected from the worst aspects of old age.

 –           A health system that does not exclude forty million poor people. 

 –           An education system that actually attempts to educate, broadly, and encourage thinking for oneself.

 –           An ability to join a union in the face of over-powerful bosses.

 –           the possibility of unemployment benefit in the event of disaster.

Add to the above a rate of tax for millionaires and billionaires that is way higher than that of the poor and the middle classes.

 Some people believe it is right to pay taxes to repay society for the benefits it has offered us all.  Not so among all too many people in the  US, where everything that marks civilised government is under attack, along with tolerance and the environment.

Some would castigate the above as straying into politics.  On the contrary, they are (or would be) the marks of a civilised society.  And isn’t a civilised society what we should be striving for?








The use of farm subsidies

Just 1% of the $700bn-a-year subsidies given to American farmers is being used to benefit the environment, according to a report by the Food and Land Use Coalition(FOLU).  Instead, most of it goes to promoting high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser. The report rejects the idea that subsidies are needed to supply cheap food and found that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. Think about that.  It also finds that producing healthy, sustainable food would actually cut food prices, as the condition of the land improved. “There is incredibly small direct targeting of [subsidies at] positive environment outcomes, which is insane,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, principal at FOLU. “We have got to switch these subsidies into explicitly positive measures.”. (The Guardian, 16 Sep 2019)

Typically, throughout the world, agricultural subsidies were introduced to ensure adequate food availability and keep farms in business.  What has actually happened is that the subsidies are going to huge industrial-agricultural combines, which are uninterested in sustainability and which are forcing out (have forced out of business?) the small family farmer.  Once again, political connections are more important than the environment.  Why are our tax dollars going to agribusiness?

What we eat, what we breathe, the environment we live in, our standard of living, our very future – all these are matters both for philosophers and for those  of us who want a calm, happy, rewarding life, as free as possible from stress and bad health.  The problem is that big business and money talk louder than anything else and skew our way of life.  Where is the magic boundary between the common sense desire for a healthy life, sufficient money, happiness, and the stress caused by big money in politics and the way it undermines decent society?   I am bound, correctly, to swear off party politics, but where is the line that should never be crossed?    Comments, please!

Time to say farewell to steak?

Soon, most of us will stop eating beef, and it won’t be because we’ll all agree with vegans that meat is murder. It’ll be due to the logic of advanced capitalism. The alternatives to meat now being developed – plant-based substitutes and vat-grown meat produced from cultured animal cells – will taste the same as beef but, unlike cow meat, they’ll be subject to the “transformative power of the modern production line”. It’s not just a matter of the sheer volume of goods produced; it’s the speed of manufacture from raw material to finished article, and the ability to vary supply with fluctuating demand, to dispense with low-value by-products like offal and excrement, and to develop variations in flavour.

“Factory farming”, despite its name, has no such advantages. As for those who think a global industry that rears billions of animals can’t vanish overnight, I give you one word: “horses”. In the early 20th century, our cities and country lanes teemed with them. Then along came the internal combustion engine, and they were gone. As the horse went, so shall the cow.  (Peter Franklin, The Week, 7 September 2019)

The Epicurean approach to this is that people should eat what they enjoy. At the same time they should be reminded that, even at its best, beef production uses a vast acreage of open farmland that was once forested and which, for the benefit of all mankind, should be at least partially re- forested.  At its worst, beef production involves vast factories where the animals are fed automatically and seldom see daylight .  The sylvan image of the grazing cattle on rolling pasture in the sunlight is a thing of the past, as city tycoons foist cruel farming methods upon us in telentless search for ever greater profit,  at least in the US.  Eat a steak and wonder how much antibiotic you are swallowing.


Pornography and the environment

Streaming of online pornography produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as the whole of Belgium, according to a new report by the French think tank The Shift Project. Its researchers found that the energy required to stream online videos is responsible for the emission of 300 million tonnes of CO2 a year – almost 1% of total global emissions – and that a third of that comes from videos with pornographic content (The Week, 20 July, 2019).

Once upon a time, young and subject to fits of curiosity, I watched a couple of these videos.  My overwhelming reaction was “BORING”!   My second reaction was “DEGRADING”. The video purported to have a “plot”,  the outcome of which was wholly predictable and dismally executed.  If this is how a small subset of the population choose ( or do they choose?  Maybe this is the extent of their interest in life) to make a living, pandering to the worst daydreams of messed- up men, then the people who watch regularly are in need of some gentle coaching on love, tenderness and respect.  Where were their parents when they were growing up?

But I am being judgmental.  While pornography is about as far away from Epicurean behaviour as we can get, we have to live and let live – porn doesn’t affect the vast majority of the rest of us.  But that this stuff appears to be responsible for pouring a disproportionate amount of CO2 into the atmosphere – well, that does affect us, and it deserves to be reined in.  The enablers should be ashamed – we should help make them feel more so. Message to porn producers: Get a life!

Welcome to the age of plastic and the trash dump planet

Humanity’s appetite for plastic is already inscribed in the fossil record – suggesting that the current epoch could become known as the “plastic age”. For a groundbreaking study, oceanographers at the University of California San Diego examined annual layers of sediment off the coast of California back to 1834. Microscopic plastic particles began to appear in the 1940s, and since then, their quantity has doubled about every 15 years – mirroring the rise in plastic production during this period. Overall, two-thirds of the particles discovered were plastic fibres, a fifth were broken-down fragments of other plastic, and a tenth were plastic film. “Plastic was invented and pretty much immediately we can see it appear in the sedimentary record,” said study lead Jennifer Brandon in The Guardian. “It is a scary thing that this is what our generations will be remembered for.”

Where I live all too much stuff we buy is packed in plastic of some sort.  Even the wrapping of parcels delivered from online sources are not re-cyclable.  Milk, which was delivered in glass bottles in my youth, is now sold in plastic containers.  And so on ad infinitum. Some manufacturers got the message years ago, but money talks loudest, and all too many companies just keep under the radar and seem to hope they don’t have to change, disrupt production, and lose a scintilla of profit.

What has this to do with Epicurus?  It is all about the degradation of the planet – too many people and too much junk finding its way into our oceans, even our drinking water. Any thinking person can (should? ) be concerned about what legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren.

Of course, the effect of climate change is the most challenging ( I personally believe it will result in unprecedented violence), but our ignorance and indifference about  what happens to the huge piles of trash we throw out may give us temporary ataraxia, but it will come back to seriously bite us.  We need to haul in the activities of the oil companies and the effects on the environment.  Big time!  (From The Week, 21 Sep 2019)

Student mental illness (Part 2)

Statistic of the week:  75%  of diagnosable mental illnesses crop up by the age of 24, driven by fear of failure and the eternal chatter about how essential it is to get a job straight out of college.

American psychologists are increasingly seeing children with ADD  and some kind of executive functioning problem among college students who haven’t learned to manage their time or structure their days, because their parents have always organized everything for them.  

American parents are often so focused on their children’s cognitive development – in part , because that’s what colleges reward – that they neglect to encourage self-management.  They are let off chores, even making beds or learning how to operate a washing machine. They need responsibility- building tasks so that they can be self-reliant.  If they are mothered to death, when they get to college they cannot cope.

There has been a cultural shift, starting with the Columbine massacre, the twin towers and the 2007 financial crash, from parental encouragement of autonomy in childhood to parental control. Parents are now super-anxious, and this communicates itself to children.  They, the parents think every little mistake is something to be fixed, rather than a learning experience which helps the child grow into an adult.  If the parents catch every fall then the child ends up afraid to fall.

There is the huge pressure to get A grades (of course, once in college everyone gets A grades! – equally ridiculous( Ed.). The message is that the child will not have a good, productive life unless they go to the best colleges for four years and do stellar work.  But there is no single perfect way of preparing for life, and the sub-text is the importance of earning power.  

Then there is the pressure kids feel as they try to make new friends at college in an atmosphere where social media is pervasive and virtual friends are not the same as real, flesh and blood friends.  It has also become more difficult to make these real friends because kids are sitting, isolated, with earphones on, staring at a computer. (These comments were extracted from a Bryn Mawr College newsletter).

Parents need to understand that their job is to prepare their children for the world of personal responsibility, starting with doing chores around the house and submitting to discipline (starting with time limits on-line).  Secondly, going to college at 17 or 18 might be satisfactory for girls ( who grow up quicker than boys), but at that age the boys, in particular, are generally still children, and need help taking responsibility for their lives and their actions.  They will get more out of college by having a gap year before college, when they either travel (yes, to Thailand possibly) or get jobs for a year where they learn some self- discipline and experience adulthood.

I believe that this whole thing is enabled by the corporations , whose interest is in hustling kids through puberty and college so that they can bolster the ( cheap) workforce.  We should be resisting.  We are, all of us, only young once.


Student mental illness ( Part 1)

A surge in anxiety, mental breakdowns, depression and stress is sweeping British university campuses. Above all, a growing proportion just seem terrified of failure, and experience the whole process of learning and assessment as an unforgiving ordeal that offers no room for creativity or mistakes,” says William Davies, lecturer at Goldsmiths and author of The Happiness Industry, a book about the commercialisation of wellbeing. One study found that six times more young people in England (aged four to 24) have psychological problems today than a generation ago, in 1995.  (The Guardian 27/09)

This is obviously a difficult and fraught subject that touches on a host of issues, including parenting, social media, the perceived job market and other factors.

My personal take will be ferociously unpopular, but it has an Epicurean aspect.  I was one of the last people to do British National Service, in the Army. I was 18 when I joined up and nearly 21 when I went up to university.  It was the first time I had encountered unforgiving discipline and encountered at close quarters young men of very different backgrounds who had been working for two or three years, were street- smart and, compared with me, were grown-up young adults.  Great guys!

I ended up commanding , as a second lieutenant, 45 men under active service in a shooting/ bombing/damn dangerous environment, making life and death decisions sometimes.  In short, postponing university grew me up rather quickly, taught me respect and consideration for people of all backgrounds, how to manage men and inspire (hopefully) respect in them, to darn socks and sew on buttons (literal and figurative).

You can spot where I am going with this.  Cosseted youngsters are leaving home, often for the first time, far too young, having had little experience of standing on their own feet and making their own decisions.  Most are not even taking a year off to travel the world ( called a “gap year” in the UK), even if all that means is sitting on a beach in Thailand and drinking too much beer.  If nothing else, this gets kids away from home, taking responsibility for themselves, without messing up their future careers.

Tomorrow, I will report and comment on the views on this subject of two Americans who have studied the epidemic that has hit college students: psychologist B. Janet Hibbs  and Dr. Anthony Rostain.

Proof of residence for EU citizens in the UK

To The Guardian

I have just read Brandon Lewis’s article (“The Home Office’s message to EU citizens living here: we want you to stay”) in respect of the need for us EU citizens living in the UK to apply for settled status, mainly to prove to the authorities that we have lived permanently in the UK for more than five years and are permitted to stay after Brexit.

I would dearly like to know what proof the authorities need from me, as someone who has lived in the UK since 1964, married a British citizen in 1968, and produced two quite intelligent and useful British citizens who in turn are contributing to society and are taxpayers?

The Home Office should really know me by now. I have a national insurance number, an NHS number and a British driving licence. I have a tax reference number because, believe me, I pay large sums to HMRC. I draw a UK state pension.

The information that I am still a German citizen (in my head, always an EU citizen) can be found in the electoral roll. Why, after all this, do I need to comply with a requirement to prove that I have existed in this country not merely for five, but for more than 55 years? Does this speak of incompetence by the Home Office, or rather a desire to belittle and humiliate EU citizens? That is certainly what it feels like.

Marlies Branston, Bedford. Sep 2019

Mr. Branston is one of thousands who, hopefully, will remain in the UK after Brexit, contributing to the country.  Unfortunately, what the uninformed and emotional supporters of Brexit expect is that most “foreigners” will be despatched “ home”.  Not only would this be cruel and crude but self-defeating.  Britain heavily relies on smart, clever and hardworking people of foreign origin to do everything from scientific research, to fixing holes in roofs, to planning a better transport system for London.  The Tory party have done such a lousy job with both education and health that there are insufficient trained people to do almost everything technical,  from nursing to plumbing.  One of the huge benefits of EU membership was the ability to attract ability.  When and if the obscurantists (who want the country to be a mean little offshore home of the semi-ignorant) have their way there will be no one to repair the electrics in their houses or to teach mathematics.  Just don’t later start bleating about it to the rest of us!

My declared intention to avoid politics never meant that I would stop protesting crass stupidity.

Dealing with people

“People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are.  What they do is they fill in with their own feelings  and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook.  No one can touch you unless you yourself want them to.  You only have to be polite and smile and keep paranoid thoughts bay, because they will talk about you no matter how much you squirm, it is inevitable, and you would do the same thing yourself.”

From “Out Stealing Horses”, by Per Petterson, published in 2003, in the US by Graywolf Press.  The book was originally in Norwegian. The book is about the thought and random life events of a man living in the Norwegian forest.

A somewhat long, but hopefully useful, philosophy crib list

Pre-Socratics (6th-5th cent BC)  Interested in the natural world

          –Thales: 1st philosopher; “everything comes from water”

            –Anaximander:  “Our world is one of many and what comes before and after all created things is boundless.” 

            –Parmenides:  “Everything that exists has always existed and nothing changes.”  He was the first rationalist.

            –Heraclitus:  “The basic characteristic of nature is constant change, or flow.  The world is characterized by opposites.  He is the first empiricist.  He says God is logosor “universal reason”.

            –Empedocles:  “All things are made of air, water, earth and fire–which don’t change but are recombined.  He distinguishes between substance (the 4 elements) and force (love and strife).

            -Anaxagoras:  “Nature is built up of an infinite number of minute particles invisible to the eye, e.g. skin and bone are made of minute skin and bone seeds”.

            –Democritus:  The building blocks of nature are different eternal and immutable atoms.  He was the first materialist.  Things happen due to natural causes, not due to an external force or soul.

            –Hippocrates:  Founder of Greek medicine, influenced later philosophers..  “The road to health is through moderation, harmony, and sound mind and sound body..

 Athenians:  Interested in man and his place in society

            Sophists (e.g. Protagoras):  Taught for money and pretended to know a lot.  “Man is the measure of all things.”  About the gods, “The question is complex and life is short.”  (He was the first agnostic.)  He distinguished between what is natural and what is socially induced.  He believed there were no absolute norms for right and wrong.

            Socrates:  A rationalist,he believed in the art of discourse.  He believed in absolute and universally valid norms and that right insight leads to right action and happiness.

            –Plato:  Established an Academy and wrote down much of Socrates and his own thoughts.  Was a rationalistbut also a dualist, since “everything in the material world flows but the soul is immortal.”  Myth of the cave:  what we see is just a reflection of the true eternal set of ideas.  He distinguishes between the natural world and the world of ideas which only a few men and women see.  These are the philosophers, who should govern the state.  Like the Hindu caste system, everything has its place.

            –Aristotle:  Spent 20 years at Plato’s Academy.  Believed in using our senses as well as our reason, and unlike Plato, that the chicken comes before the idea of the chicken.  Distinguishes between “substance”, or what things are made of, and “form”, their particular characteristics and what they do.  When a chicken dies, only the substance remains. Form governs a thing’s potential and limitation.  He classified everything in to animal, vegetable, and mineral.  He distinguished 4 different causes, including the “first” or “final” cause, which was God.  Ethics:  There are 3 forms of happiness: pleasure; as a free, responsible citizen; and as a thinker/philosopher.  He believed in balance and moderation in all things, echoing the Golden Mean and Greek medicine.  He believed women are incomplete, and all of a child’s characteristics come from the sperm.

            –Stoics:  Believed in a universal natural law, like Socrates.  Believed in one nature (monism), and the importance of politics.  Believed in enduring pain and accepting destiny.

            –Epicurus:  He believed in creating one’s own “garden” and avoiding politics.

His basic guide to living:

1) Don’t fear God.

2) Don’t worry about death.

3) Don’t fear pain.

4) Live simply.

5) Pursue pleasure wisely.

6) Make friends and be a good friend.

7) Be honest in your business and private life.

8) Avoid fame and political ambition.

I would add: think of others; be polite and considerate; try to see the other point of view; meet others half way, if possible. Take the smooth and pleasant road, as free from stress and conflict as possible. But don’t be put upon!

            –Mysticism:  Western mysticism involves communication with a personal god; eastern mysticism involves merging with the cosmos.

            –Neo-platonism:  Plotinusbelieved that the world is a span between 2 poles: the devine light (the “one”) and absolute darkness

Middle Ages  Were interested in God and mind and body relationships

            -St. Augustine:  4th/5th cent.  Saw no conflict between Christianity and the philosopy of Plato.  Believed God created the world, which was in his mind as a devine idea.  Within each person is a struggle between Kingdom of the World and the Kingdom of God (or City of God) and the way to God is thru faith.

            –St. Thomas Acquinas:  13th cent.  Like Aristotle, believed that God was the first cause, or prime mover.  There are two paths to God, one through reason, one through faith.

The Enlightenment  Were interested in rationality, etc.

            -Descartes:  A rationalist, like Plato, believes the proof of God is that humans have an idea of a “supreme being”.

            Spinoza:  A materialist, like Democritus, believes that everything happens through natural causes and questions man’s freedom.

            Locke:  17th cent. empiricist–believed everything we know comes from our senses and distinguishes between primary and secondary qualities.  But also a rationalistwho believed in the idea of a natural right and the ability of man to “know” God exists.  A forerunner of liberal ideas including equality of sexes (influenced Mill) and division of powers of state.

            Hume:  18th cent.  qualified empiricistand agnostic, distinguished between impressions (immediate sensations) and ideas (reflection on experience), which can be simple or complex (like our idea of Heaven).  He said complex ideas are not trustworthy.  The sense of self is just a collection of “simple” impressions; we don’t really have an unalterable ego, or immortal soul.  Buddha said the same thing 2,500 years ago.  What we see as “laws of nature” are only things we are in the habit of seeing.  They don’t prove anything.  He thinks right and wrong are based on sentiment, not reason.  Distinguishes between descriptive and normative statements.

            Berkeley:  18th cent. Irish bishop.  Did not believe in the reality of the material world.  The cause of our perceptions is spiritual, the effect of God’s power.

            Enlightenment philosophers (Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau):   Were interested in the following ideas (which moved from England (early 18th cent) to France (mid-18th cent) to Germany (late 18th cent.):

            -Opposition to authority (Locke)

            -Rationalism (Montesquieu, Voltaire)

            -the Enlightenment movement (writing of the 1st encyclopedia)

            -Cultural optimism

            -the Return to Nature (Rousseau)

            -Natural religion (Deism:  God is the prime mover but has not revealed himself since except thru nature and natural laws)

            -Human rights (Locke, later Mill)

            –Kant:  18th cent.  Said time and space are our 2 forms of intuition and things adapt themselves to this perception, distorting reality.  Believes we use both senses and reason to know.  The law of causality is in our minds: he distinguishes between “the thing for me” or the formof knowledge and “the thing in itself”, or the materialof knowledge.  The Existence of God, the Immortality of the Sourl, and Free Will are practical postulates; they can be known only by faith, not reason (he’s a Protestant).  The ability to tell right from wrong is part of our practical reason.  He tried to reconcile the rationalists and empiricists.

            –Hegel;  He united and developed many of the ideas developed by the Romantic movement but confined the definition of “world spirit” or “world reason”  to humans.  He said that all knowledge is human knowledge and truth is subjective.  He believed there are no eternal truths; knowledge evolves over time.  The history of thought follows a dialectic process; thesis, antithesis, and symthesis.  The synthesis then becomes the point of departure for the next thesis.  In contrast to the romantic thesis of individualism (subjective spirit) , Hegel emphasized the importance of the family, civil society and the state (objective spririt).  Beyond this, there is the “absolute spirit” represented by art, religion, and philosophy.

            –Kierkegard:  A Dane, who reacted against Hegel by emphasizing the individual’s responsibility for his own life.  e,g, deciding whether Christianity is true for you (not in general).  The 3 stages of life are:  aesthetic (enjoyment of life, may also lead to angst); ethical (characterized by seriousness and consistency of moral choices) and religious (characterized by the leap of faith that dominates both the search for pleasure and reasoned behaviour).  He became significant to existentialists as well as Christians.

            –Marx:  Known as an historical materialist (i.e. it is the material factors in society that have been decisive for historical development, not “world reason”), Marx also rejected Hegel’s idealism, or system. He believed that the purpose of philosophy was not to interpret the world but to change it.  His thinking therefore had a practical, political objective.  In particular, he claimed that it is the economic forces in society that create change, i.e. the basis of society creates the superstructure (political ideas and institutions, etc.)  The interaction between these two is known as dialectical materialism; the superstructure does not have any life of its own.

            –Nietsche:  Said “God is dead” and don’t listen to those who offer you supernatural expectations.  Believed the life force of the strongest should not be hampered by the weakest.

            –Existentialism:  Sartre said “existentialism is humanism”, and we must create our own essence because it is not fixed in advance.   Man feels alien in a world without meaning, hence feelings of the absurd, of despair, boredom.  Man’s freedom is a curse.

(I would like to thank Jostein Gaarder, the author of “Sophie’s World” (1991) for both the idea and for the foreshortened summing ups)